Book reviewing in the SFF community is an awesome gig. The books hitting our inboxes and post boxes in 2020 and 2021 just keep getting better and better. And as an SFF book reviewer, one of the major bonuses of the gig is getting access to these books months in advance–added bonus if you’re in the UK because those print hardcover advanced reader copies (ARCs) are fucking gorgeous.
Then, all you need is the time you spend reading the books anyway, an opinion on them, and to be able to put that opinion into a coherent 400+ word post.
So, assuming at this point you’re pretty keen on getting a glimpse into the world of reviewers, I asked our brilliant GdM team about what they focussed on when writing reviews.
Carrie Chi Lough
My friend’s passion for reviews influenced me to start writing them. Immediately, I noticed a difference. In writing a review, I take everything I felt about a book and turn them into concise words. I’ve noticed plenty of times, my thoughts about a book change once I sit down to write. It’s about gaining a deeper appreciation and understanding about what I’ve read. It’s hoping someone will read my review and become hyped to read the book themselves. Anymore, I don’t consider a book finished until after the review is written.
The key aspects for me are communicating how the book made me feel in a way that instantly makes a reader feel that they may connect with the story. It may be characters that are unique but relatable, plot lines that keep me up all night and force me to turn the next page, or settings that feel vivid and real. Writing reviews allows me to take my time when digesting what I’ve read and hopefully brings a larger audience to authors who deserve it thanks to their hard work and wonderful writing!
The first thing I tend to think of when reviewing is context. This is the book, the author, the date of publication, the place of the work within any series or franchise or genre landscape. “Here, dear reader, are the things you need to best approach this novel.”
After that, the focus is on establishing other details – an indication as to the plot, elements of technique (the latter I could probably work better on). Suitable comparisons to other works may appear in this portion.
With those foundations in place, I can talk about my feelings on the book with a touch of ‘authority’ – scare quotes to indicate that I do not possess a PhD in Grimdark Studies. These are always going to be the least coherent – and possibly, the least relevant – parts of a review for the reader and I am hardly certain that my discernment in these matters is so very advanced. This isn’t to say that I count this portion of the review as unimportant, but I do try to be modest or precise in the claims I make as part of it. Qualified rapture, as they say.
For me, the key thing about reviewing is how a book makes me feel. All the great writing and characters in the world aren’t enough if the story doesn’t emotionally connect to the reader. I usually try to write a few sentences of copy about the main themes of the book to get the reader stuck into the review and hopefully get invested. Then I talk about the main aspects I liked (or, perhaps, didn’t like) and explain why, so that they can make an informed decision whether this might be one for them. I like ending on a catchy statement or recommendation.
For me, what I look for in a book is how it made me feel. What is my overall perception of the book? Did it make me happy or sad? Do I want to know more? I try to convey that to whoever reads the review to decide if the book is for them. I love reading, and even more so, I love sharing that love with people. Through the reading community, I have discovered so many great books, particularly self-published ones.
One of the key things about reviewing for me is getting people excited to read what you’re reading–to share the experience with me. To pass on that excitement (or at times, disappointment) requires the ability to translate passion for reading into your review writer’s voice.
From a more technical side–when I’m putting in the team’s reviews–I enjoy ensuring the SEO is solid to give the post and the reviewer’s work the best chance of being seen by as many viewers as possible.
I tend to find reviewing SFF books rewarding and sometimes challenging and I try to review novels early if I can. I don’t read blurbs or other reviews before writing my own so I turn my indecipherable scribble notes into the reviews you can find on this blog, knowing that every word is my honest, uninfluenced thoughts. I proofread my reviews about 17 times, and occasionally get Beth Tabler to check them too. Once I’ve posted my review, I then see what reviewers I respect have said about the same book in their reviews, to see whether we agree or disagree. Only then do I class the book experience as finished and move on to the next one!
I usually kick off with my personal impression of an author or the subject they’re delving into, followed by a brief description of their work and my impressions based on story, setting, originality, risks taken & use of language. I conclude the review with a para on whether or not I think the work has achieved its goal and also assign it a rating. I like to review creative work firstly because I like writing, secondly to introduce readers to a story I think is worth sharing, or thirdly to champion the work of creatives who I don’t think get enough recognition.
Reading is the only aspect of my life in which I could be considered a romantic. I truly think that there is a perfect book out there for everyone and I love playing literary matchmaker. My reviews focus on the emotions the book caused in me first and get into the nitty gritty, so to speak, second. Recently someone commented that, based on the things I didn’t enjoy in a particular book, they are now interested in reading it. It’s one of the best compliments I’ve gotten! At the end of the day, I just love shouting about books.
I just try and share my open and honest feelings about a work. Opinions are like a certain part of the body: everyone has them and they usually stink, but we all need them to and they perform an important function. In the end, we all just love reading and writing about the works we’re interested in.
Want to be an SFF Book reviewer with Grimdark Magazine?
If you’ve ever pondered becoming a reviewer, love SFF (especially grimdark SFF), and can turn your opinions in to clean, structured copy, consider giving me a shout: adrian (at) grimdarkmagazine (dot) com. Out team are located all around the globe and just love reviewing books!